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How to Photograph a Sunrise


The alarm clock buzzes. You crack an eye open and see the light blinking at you. 4:45am. After a few moments, your groggy mind remembers why you set your alarm in the first place. You groan, and after another minute, roll out of bed.

You take a quick peek out the window. Still dark out. But it won’t be for long. You quickly dress in multiple layers, pulling out a pair of fingerless gloves and beanie cap. You pack a breakfast bar and thermos full of coffee. Then you double-check your equipment list:

  1. Camera [no brainer]. Check.
  2. 24-70 lens [favorite for this activity]. Check.
  3. Tripod and quick release [a necessity]. Check.
  4. Shutter release [makes for clear pictures]. Check.
  5. Cleared cards [to take as many as you can]. Check.

By 5:00am, you are on your way out the door and headed out your driveway.

You know exactly where you are headed; peak about 20 minutes from your home. After unpacking your equipment, you face the Eastern horizon. Already the golden glow of the sun is beginning to appear. The fog is swirling around the base of the rolling green hills. You smile. It’s going to be a beautiful sunrise.

You place your camera on the tripod. Pause to confirm your settings:

Shutter Speed (TV) = 20 seconds

The early morning light is soft and diffused, so you need a longer shutter speed to let in more light, otherwise your picture will be underexposed.

ISO = 100

With a long shutter speed, you don’t need your sensor to be more sensitive to the light. And with a low ISO, you have a higher dynamic range for stronger intensity of color.

White balance = Shade

Morning light is cooler in color tones. You know that you can correct this with your white balance, so you shoot on shade so the sunrise feels golden and warm.

File type = RAW

You want to go home and post-process your image to produce something really sweet. Shooting in RAW extends your editing capabilities. And since your file size is larger, you now have the ability to order a 20×24 print for your grandparents’ 50th anniversary present.

You start shooting into the sunrise, pressing the shutter every 30 seconds or so after evaluating your image. The colors begin to intensify. You like what you are getting, but soon, the sun has crested the hill on the horizon, and you stop. There\ has got to be something cooler to shoot.

You turn and look to the left, your breath catching in your throat. The sun is lighting the surrounding hills perfectly, and the fog is illuminated by the intense highlights. Quickly, you adjust your shutter speed and fire off a few shots. In just a few moments, you stare at your LCD screen. A smile spreads across your face. Got it.

Satisfied with the results of your sunrise shoot, you head back home. After a mid morning nap, you take the time to upload your pictures. Just as you hoped, that last shot fulfills all your expectations.

One week later, a package arrives at your door. Carefully, you open the wrapping. In your hands, you hold the product of your previous early morning adventure.

Loss of sleep. An early morning in the cold. A 40-minute drive.

Worth it?

Totally. Your grandparents are gonna love it.

Further Reading: How to Photograph Sunrises and Sunsets

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Christina N Dickson
Christina N Dickson

is a visionary artist and philanthropist in Portland Oregon. Her work includes wedding photography www.BrideInspired.com and leadership with www.RevMediaBlog.com.

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